Monday, 31 October 2016

Pumpkin Beer Hallowe'en Spooktacular

October is almost done. Samhuinn fires are lit to burn us into November as the Skeleton Summer draws to a close. Three offerings to the great pumpkin sit on this reporter's table. Three pumpkin beers to lead us into the cold months and maybe make a few people say "ugh, pumpkin, nah" and hit the "back" button.

The Fear, from Flying Dog, is first up. The strongest of the three at 9% abv, it promises pumpkin-spice devastation with label art that showcases perfectly Ralph Steadman's ability to illustrate fear and, indeed, loathing.

Smoke crawls from the bottle neck like a ghost girl from a TV screen. The spices with which this Imperial ale are brewed are present here, strong and musty. There is a cigar-box acridity, a mysterious buzz that sits perfectly with the outhouse paranoia sounds of Tom Waits' "What's He Building In There?". It looks at home in a skull-shaped glass, dark brown with a thin tan head. The first mouthful is an eruption of heat and glorious herbal stank and I wolf down three mouthfuls with the gusto of an ancient king about to face the sacrificial threefold death of wounding, drowning and burning. The alcoholic heat is reined in after this, the malty basslines and the keening choir of spices (loudest among them being cinnamon) drowning it out.

The beer is sticky, clingy, cloying and tacks itself to the tongue, sizzling there and numbing the buds with a faint aftertaste of bubblegum. Late-teens Jaegermeister memories return, and the bottle of Baba Jaga herbal liquor I still haven't finished after a decade broods at me from its shelf in my kitchen. 

The final slug contains a strong hit of liquor and liquorice, a medicinal suckerpunch to an open, glakey mouth. I jerk my head to the right, convinced I've seen something move in the hallway. It's just my hair. They don't call it The Fear for nothing, I guess.

There's a lot going on down at the bottom of Roadsmary's Baby, a rum-cask-aged 6.8% abv pumpkin beer from 2 Roads Brewing. A field of sediment, 3mm deep, sits at the bottom of the bottle. I crack my knuckles, limbering up to pour without filling my glass with murk. Steady. Steady.

The scent from the neck is led by the vanilla beans mentioned on the label, with squash and malt following thereafter and the rum scent holding a faint rearguard. 

The little glass skull this time takes on the hazy colour of a brass boiler plate, and a strong inhale from the glass brings out the rum cask scent. Another bottle on my kitchen shelf silently calls out to me, the ruinous bottle of Guyanan Rhum Agricole that a guy on my stag weekend gave me. I'm saving the last few mouthfuls for if I get married again or need to launch a rocket into space.

The carbonation is surprisingly strong on the first mouthful, a smokescreen under which the rum flavour advances and makes gains in the mouth, lips and tongue regions. While this all goes on, the scent within the glass shifts in favour of the pumpkin-spice aroma, and it's worth a good few minutes of steady inhalation, the kind of behaviour that might get you weird looks at a pub but is totally acceptable in your kitchen. Another few mouthfuls and a hazelnutty taste appears, and the alcoholic heat builds to solid "winter warmer" levels. 

For such a layered beer, with its strata of rum cask flavours, squash tastes and spicy buzz, Roadsmary's Baby leaves little lingering aftertaste after the glass is empty, leaving little palate-cleansing to be done before the final beer.

I have to underline the fact that Gary, the man behind Newcastle microbrewery Grid Brewing, is a mate of mine. I was just at his house last weekend taking part in the destruction of a lot of box-fresh American IPAs and DIPAs when I told him I was excited to drink Fall, Grid's pumpkin beer, and mentioned that my girlfriend Emma is a big fan of pumpkins and spice (I think she causes a blip on Starbucks' takings every October) and he was more than happy to sort me out with a bottle. In the interests of ethics, and because I've already had two pretty heavy hitting beers tonight, the bottle of Fall will be split between Emma and I, and she's going to give her opinions on it at the end of this post. 

Beneath a banner of heavy Gothic typeface, Fall makes its appearance, The crown cap is popped off and the beer within clamours to escape, foam adding a snowy mountain-top to the open neck. A smoky, clovey, spicy scent rises and I pour our glasses. A misty copper-gold with a little more haze than that which fills Emma's glass (mine was the second glass poured) turns to amber with a light behind it.

From the glass the scent remains a warming, fulfilling roasted spice, with the squashy pumpkin filling out on subsequent breaths. Smooth, spiced, and holding its own following two powerful beers, Fall has a cleaner, less herbal, less medicinal taste to it than The Fear and Roadsmary's Baby. At 4.8% it is almost-too-easily sessionable and its aftertaste lingers excellently, quietly upending the pumpkin cart and getting squash everywhere. The weakest in terms of alcoholic volume of tonight's beers, Fall's flavour still stands up after this reporter's head-holes have been smashed about by Flying Dog and Two Roads' tasty offerings. 

To end this entry, here's Emma's take on Fall. She's had more pumpkin spice lattes than anyone I've ever met, and she knows her pumpkins.


Hey, I'm Emma and I know nothing about beer, craft or otherwise. Time to share my much awaited taste experience!

Ok so first off I tried to smell it from the bottle but, I shit you not, it literally spooged foamy-ass bubbles right up my nose. So clearly it was very pleased to see me!

Forgive me if my writing seems a bit weird, above all else I went through two pens before having to resort to using a pencil to take my notes like a caveman. And I'm reading them off of my pizza box because too lazy to find a notebook. Although considering I'm using my phone's notes app to write this drivel up, I could have used it to write my notes down in. But this is what a sensible person would have done. God help us all.

I got to drink out of the pumpkin glass. An honour probably not deserving of this novice. But it's my glass so nyah nyah.

Anyway, when I finally could smell the bastard without inhaling beer head, I picked up faint notes of cinnamon and (obviously) pumpkin, the flavours some of us PSL loving people have come to associate with Autumn and the colder months. The colour in the glass made me think of a deep orange tea. Is pumpkin tea a thing, does anyone know? It should be. If it isn't.

After snorting it for what I assumed was an acceptable and professional amount of time, it was bottoms up time. I was surprised that it wasn't bitter as most of my experience with a lot of beers is a bitter aftertaste that drowns out whatever is meant to accompany it, but that could just be my taste buds not knowing what the hell is going on. It was quite thin and smooth, no leftover residue or anything like that, it went down lovely. 
Of course, the more I drank it, the more it tasted mostly of beer. But that's ok, since it's beer.

All in all, a satisfying seasonal beverage, would absolutely drink again. Maybe with Chinese food. That would be nice. 

Now Ruari, stop pissing about with this, your pizza's stone cold now.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- Clearer by the End of the Week

Blue skies herald the beginning of the weekend. Today September is dying hard, burning away into October with a summery curse on its lips. Friday night rolls into town beneath a retreating sun, wide eyed and thirsty.

This week I have been drinking beers from German brewery Schwaben Brau, which are currently on sale at Aldi branches throughout the UK. It's time for the final beer, a bright and clear Pilsner called Das Helle, to come chip away at the hangover that its cloudy sibling Das Naturtrub started up last night.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- the Haze Comes Down

A hazy beer for a hazy day, with a low Autumn sun cracking its knuckles and preparing to cause countless rush hour fender benders, Das Naturtrub from Schwaben Brau sits smug and cloudy in its half litre swing-top. The fourth of the five German imports currently carried by Aldi UK, and the second last in this little series. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- Festivities Continue!

In Stuttgart they are making merry. The Canstatter Volksfest is in full swing. An Autumn festival which happens to include a huge amount of beer drinking is probably the best kind of festival there is, and while it absolutely sucks that I'm missing it, as well as the Oktoberfest in Munich because of course I could make myself appear in two places at the same time if beer was involved, a bottle of Schwaben Brau's VolksfestBier sits before me, glistening with perspiration like a prize-winning dray horse.

Aldi UK is stocking five of Schwaben Brau's beers at the moment for £1.79 a bottle, and I'm drinking them every night of the week for you all. Tonight is the turn of the beer brewed specially for the festival that I'm missing.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- Darkness and Light

"I'll have my own Oktoberfest", I say to the ghosts of dead beers that float through my little house. "I'll have my own Oktoberfest", I say to the moths in my bank account. "I'll have my own Oktoberfest", I transmit psychically to the Aldi cashier as I pack my bag with bottles of Schwaben Brau beer. None of them hear me and I go home clanking and thirsty.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sixpoint Resin

There is hype, and then there's anticipation. There's the machinations of a slick hype machine, a "GABBO IS COMING" sign on every corner, and then there is the internal clamouring for a beer that seems just out of reach, just a short hop over the Bastard Atlantic.

For two years this reporter has tormented himself with hopes of Sixpoint Brewery's Resin Double IPA crossing that damned ocean and arriving in his sticky and noisy Wetherspoon's, to the extent that any hype there might have been from the brewery has slipped by him.

The slender can with the all-caps word that promises dank and cannibinoid scents, the alcoholic volume that threatened sweet obliteration and the Beeradvocate scores that promised I would either be extremely let down or very much in agreement, all of this has crossed the sea. 

Two cans of Resin are on the table in front of me, in John the Clerk of Cramlington, along with a smiling-faced rubber beanbag toy abandoned at the table by its prior occupants. Resin is here and I'm opening the can up right now. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Cramlington Festival Triple Threat

The universe creaks as the stars align. The August Bank Holiday looms and beer festivals are once more uncaged from their prison in the Shadow Zone and roam the Earth with impunity. Ravenous, they are, and legion.

The Plough is a public house in my home town of Cramlington (although I do have a bit of a laugh, off and on, about how I live across the road in East Hartford now) and this weekend a beer festival is happening there. For maybe two weeks Jamie, a friend of mine who works there (ring the nepotism alarm!) has been texting me updates on the increasingly "craft" roster of beers she's been putting together.

Into my hands, tonight, went three bottles from this list, a teamsheet of excellent beers both home and away, which puts Cramlington- a town remarkable for appearing in a Biggles book, and for Sting once working here- in an excellent beery light.

Eskimo Joe, from Fierce Beer, looks like a double hard bastard. For a start, the Fierce logo- a pissed-off looking hop, looks it's just about reached its limit for this shit. More obvious than this, though, is the fact that the label art features a polar bear in Inuit garb that is just straight up screaming, You know you're in for a good time when there's a polar bear on the bottle. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Live Beer Blogging From EBBC16

This was a live event, in which I and about 75 other beer bloggers and writers took part in live beer blogging from the European Beer Bloggers Conference in Amsterdam. I have tidied up a few grammatical errors and placed a couple of links I couldn't place at the time. Photographs were taken as I wrote but added later. 

Kompaan Brewery, the second beer I encountered this morning, are first at our table. We're to have five minutes with each brewery, and there are ten in total.

Caps are cracked on bottles of their double IPA, Handlanger. At 8.2% this beer's name translates to "accomplice"- a dangerous companion, the brewers say.

It pours hazy and the colour of dry and dead grass, if grass could blush. This is a good thing. On the nose, bright and pointed fruit. Bitter orange rules over the taste.

Oersoep Microbrewery  are at our table now. They labour over bottle openers as they uncork bottles of Brettalicious. Sour lime, mint, gooseberry and grapefruit scents levitate above the beer, a colour somewhere close to gold dust. Hazy and full of promise. The taste, subtle, refreshing and shimmering bright. Sourness is there, but a relaxed sourness Floral. The aftertaste puckers the mouth. I forgot to photograph this one.

Our next sample is from Maximus Brewery, a number named Saison 5. I'm feeling a little buzzed by this point, these delicious products lying comfortable on my breakfast beers. The requisite farmhouse taste is there but subdued, comforting and low in hop notes.

It is the colour of the early stages of a sunset over East Hartford; my home, and a village I suddenly miss terribly.

White Label from Brouwerij Emelisse appears at our table with an Imperial Russian stout and it's probably time to start living like a Tsar. Chocolate mated with whisk(e)y, or the former slammed into the latter, are the overpowering scents. Looking like an ancient biker jacket that has been liquidised, and tasting of smoky, bitter and ashen coffee, the black coffee of a hangover morning. There are torched caramel elements to the taste that suggest nothing less than an utterly evil Mars Bar.

Brouweirij Kees Barrel Project #05/2016 arrives. It pours beautiful petroleum for a glass filled with cassock-black beer. They leave the bottle. It's an oatmeal stout, lightly spicy and thick on the tongue. They leave the bottle. It's 10% ABV. This is the beginning of the descent, as I dive into a pool of smoky black milk.

It's time to revisit the work of Oedipus Brewery, whose Thai Thai Saison I experienced last night. This beer is called Swingers. a Gose beer (brewed with salt and way nicer than it sounds), soured with lactobacillus (what's up, chemistry nerds) and instantly both thirst and hunger inducing. Someone chopper out a Papa Johns to me right (Amster)damn now.

It hits the senses hard with bitter and bright premium flavours of gummi. Imagine craft gummi and you'e nailed it.

Brouwerij De Prael are another team that leave us the bottle. Their IPA lands on our table. It pours a filthily gorgeous conglomerate of dirty brass and peach in the shadows. The scent is grapefruit. It smells like the few months when, aged 19, I read a book about the Rat Pack and thought I was Frank Sinatra. There is wonderful grapefruit bitterness that crackles like lighting through the mouth.

In T-shirts that seep rockabilly sleaze, the Brouwerij T'IJ team arrive at this boozy speed dating event. They drop upon us their IPA. Dry hopped with citra and mosaic hops, I launch myself at it and pour out too much, vexing Mrs Beer Snob but making amends with a pour-out of mine to hers. The gold of sailor's buttons, again a scent of grapefruit, sharper than the last. Piercing. The taste crashes banana, citrus and more banana against the tongue


Number nine arrives! With a smoked porter called Koud Vuir (cold fire, how metal is that?) Bax Bier make their entrance. Tamer than the unhinged rauchbiers from Germany, it's sessionable if you can get away with the smoky flavour (and this reporter can, and so can you if you dig smoked meat of any kind, I GUARANTEE IT

Duits and Laurent Brewery, hailing from Utrecht, throw the final ball of the match with a wood-aged doppelbock, liquid bread for fasting monks as legend has it. It hits at 7.5%, the taste of the wood obvious, cozy, warming and wonderfully meaty. This medium rare beer has the aspect of well-loved leather, wingbacked and patrician. It really does feel like a meal in a glass, which is pretty good for this thirsty and now quite lit beer scrivener who hasn't eaten since he forced half a sandwich into himself at breakfast.

And with that, the beery speed date is over. A bus leaves at 17:45 to take us on a suicide mission to Jopen Brewery in Haarlem. Those of us who are about to drink (even more) salute you.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Lavender Black Berlinerweiss

The name rings out like a clean piano chord, through the heavy air of a smoky room.

A few years of the Northern Alchemy team naming their beers simply and efficiently, giving them monickers that tell the prospective drinker what they're buying into with minimal fuss, has given us Lavender Black Berlinerweiss. Functionality and simplicity has somehow generated the most perfect name for an Anglo-German, jazz singing, Weimar-era thriller protagonist.

A dark beer, in the Berliner Weisse style. Made with lavender. I pour her into a fine pilsner class, thin and elegant, the sharp citrus of her neck-scent still echoing through my skull.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Something Funny in my Glass- Boba Bubbles and Budget Beer

It's cool that we live in a postmodern world where a person far removed from the streets of Seoul can announce "I like Boba Juice" without sounding like they've recently received a head injury. Bubble Tea, Boba Juice, or whatever you want to call it (and I would probably bet money that a decade down the line there'll be a "craft"-esque pissfight over which descriptor is Right and True to use) is a thing that even colliery-terrace Mole Men like your correspondent know about. It's getting to be everywhere.

Manhua Cha is a startup company here in the North East, and they sling Bubble Tea by the barrel-load. Emma and I keep running into them at conventions and the idea struck both of us that it would be a good idea to put some of Manhua Cha's balls in my drink.

I am so, so sorry for going blue on this one. Forgive a Mole Man his indulgences.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Freedom Brewery's Prototype Pale Ale

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with single step", said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He got that right, but if a journey of any distance doesn't end with a beer it's a bit of a wasted trip.

Anyone who's been following this blog or my Twitter account knows that I've gone through a bit in the past three weeks. I've publicly documented my journey from being scared and injured and bordering on becoming a recluse, all the way to stomping merrily out of the house to buy beer. My blog has lost its beery focus for the past few weeks, with my initial and now-deleted post explaining that I would step away from writing for a while.

Now I'm back from the wilderness, and without any further fuss it's time to crack open a bottle of Freedom Brewery's new Prototype Pale Ale. I've missed (and I am going to enjoy) this.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sunday Pale Ale

And Union. A brewery seemingly designed to make all of my previous English teachers twitch every time I begin a sentence with its name.

And Union, a brewery which for the longest time baffled me a bit with its rather abstract approach to self promotion on social networks. And Union would post a cool picture with a beer bottle, and then maybe another cool picture of a table or something, and this reporter didn't see any long spiels about how their beer was available in a bar somewhere, or a shop, or even (not at first, at least) a clear cut statement to say that Brewers And Union (to give the brewery its Sunday name) was indeed in the business of beering people.

The crashing halt I came to last Saturday when I walked past Glug, a beer shop in Newcastle's Grainger Market and one of my regular haunts, was brought about entirely by the glimpse of some of And Union's beers in the shop window. I tried to press on them twice in quick succession, I tried to "smash that mf heart button", but realised that this wasn't Instagram but in fact reality!

And now it's time, on this rainy Sunday evening, to open a bottle of Sunday Pale Ale, 500mls of Internet Cool.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Paella Food Ale

I hold my breath like a marksman as the bottle neck clicks against the glass. I don't have the steadiest hands- maybe it's all the caffeine, maybe it's related to spending my days typing, maybe I'm just incredibly uncool. Whatever the reason, I can't mess this up.

A little sediment slipping from the bottle to the glass isn't always the end of the world, but Paella Food Ale is different to most beers.

Sediment like WHOA

Brewed in collaboration between N√≥mada Brewing Co. of Spain, and Freigeist Bierkultur of Germany, this beer comes with more than a centimetre of softly shifting solid matter at the base of the bottle.  The label tells us "contains paella" and the ingredients back this up, telling us that saffron, rice and olive oil are in there. None of this heaving field of sediment can get in the glass. None.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Kaffir Lime Leaf Session IPA

Nothing strikes at a headache quite like a cold beer. Like a keen chisel making the first blow into a virgin cube of aching marble, there's a feeling of a physical jolt as a mouthful of civilisation's foundation, society's great leveller, crashes inside the humming and thrumming skull.

With aching head and thirsting hands, I eagerly grabbed a fistful of Kaffir Lime Leaf Session IPA, a relatively new beer from Newcastle's Box Social Brewing, my mind set firmly on rehdyration and lubrication in the name of beer writing and pain management.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Alcotox and Old Tom

Almost four years ago a younger, slimmer and less battle-damaged Ruari O'Toole received an email from Rum and Reviews editor Craig Heap inviting him to take part in jointly reviewing a hangover prevention pill called Alcotox. He rose to this challenge like an alcoholic Rapier missile because he's always liked a sip, has Ruari. 

Soon a night of mind-erasure took place, in which Ruari and his friend Carl got significantly drunk on a variety of beers and ciders, and which ended in Ruari being adamant (to this day, in fact) that he witnessed a human-faced cat somewhere in Cramlington's leafy Northburn estate. The next morning Ruari awoke and turned in his copy, along with beer writer Chris Hall, and the result was a great bit of journalism that led to the company that made Alcotox emailing Editor Craig and dropping this bag of ego food on our plates.

Click to expand this image of someone comparing
me and my hophead mates to Chaucer and Keats.
 It won't happen again

The Rum and Reviews days are gone now, and from what I can tell you can't even access the old website any more; it's trapped behind a big "your domain name has expired like years ago, quit living in the past" message, but a recent discussion at my day job of cats that look like people dragged me right back to that night, and to Old Tom, a strong dark ale I drank then that has a cat on the label and most likely led to either a false memory of a cat with weird little human eyes, or in fact summoned an unseelie catman from Dark Cramlington. 

Resolving to carry out the ritual again, this time prepared to travel to whichever alternate Hell Zone the cat-thing wished me to visit with it, this reporter acquired the relevant potions from Blyth Asda. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Green Devil IPA and Scarlet Macaw

On lazy wings of feather and foliage, the devil and the macaw glide through the warming air of a thawing Northumbria. For this weekend at least the shackles of winter seem thoroughly cast off.

A thirsty summer beckons, a hazy siren in aviator shades singing out to us the promise of cool beers in the blazing sun.

"... and on the cheap" she seems to sing, just as her song trails off into silence.

Two of Oakham Ales' best products, their Green Devil IPA and their Scarlet Macaw pale ale, have made it to the shelves of Home Bargains, and probably other discount shops too. Writing a book that requires you to drink alone in Newcastle a lot is tough on the wallet so with an audible yelp your correspondent, at 17:59 on a Friday night, dashed into his local bargain shop and filled his arms with these beers, to the chagrin of the staff. At £1.19 and £1.00 a bottle respectively, it would be rude not to.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Beer Matching on Free Comic Book Day

Comics and beer seem to fit well together. A single-issue comic book and a glass of beer can be paced to finish at the same time, and the massive variance in comic book art and storylines certainly matches and probably even outstrips beer in terms of variety of styles. The strong visual aspects of comic books mesh with the under-valued visual end of beer enjoyment. The amber glow of the falling sun through the glass of IPA, the thick and sturdy head of a pint of nitro stout, the filthy streets of Mega City One, the eye-gougingly violent goregasms of the post-apocalyptic world of Crossed.

That one scene where Judge Dredd punches Judge Death in the mouth and his hand goes out the other side. Yeah, that's the good stuff. All visual and all massively evocative. Gaze into the fist of Dredd. Gaze into the hazy glass of unfined ale, unpasteurised and unadulterated like Dionysus intended. 

Free Comic Book Day this year yielded a mighty haul, and with a few visits to beer shops on the way home the process of matching some of these comics to beers that complement them began in arch, lubricated, beery earnestness. I've pulled six comics out of the pile and it's time to crack open bottles and do likewise to books.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Land of Liberty American Style IPA

I love writing about this liquid pastime we call "Craft Beer". I've made a little money out of it and had my name on a book that was available in at least
a handful of branches of WH Smith, and I've garnered a lot of clicks in the last two and a bit years, and it's a whole lot of fun, this beer writing lark.

I've made great friends out of this racket, from my days with Rum and Reviews up until this hot minute, and I've been really touched by some folks' reactions to some of my heavier articles. 

Like a lot of people reading this article, I spend a bit of money on beer. Maybe more than a bit. 

I wouldn't be having all of this beery fun if it wasn't for me taking punts on cheap beer; line-end stock at places like B&M or Home Bargains, or mystery bottles with cryptic labels grabbed in Polish and Lithuanian shops in my home city of Newcastle. If I'd not had access to interesting, different beer at a low price I'd still probably be drinking Guinness and Fosters almost exclusively. This wouldn't have made me any less of a person but I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun as I've had in the last few years. 

This range of beers has shown itself to be accessible, tasty, well produced and satisfying. To varying degrees the beers serve as fine introductions to their respective styles but are also good beers. These are beers that sell for £1.09 a bottle, a "small change on the walk back from work" price-tag that welcomes the curious purchaser, and it's time to satisfy the final one-fifth of this purchaser's curiosity.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: All 4 One 4 Hop Lager

The season of unashamed lager drinking approaches, ever so slowly. There are rumours on the wind that Summer might happen this year. The rituals of purchasing shorts that actually fit us, insisting to everyone that we're definitely going to do a lot of barbeques this year, and the ceremonial beheading of goats to please the sun god are all taking place across the nation.

Lager looms over this portended season of beer gardens and being able to get away with wearing a hat. Let Hog's Back Brewery's All 4 One lager be dragged to the altar and tested, while we wait for the goat to arrive.

A playful, floral, sparkling scent is unleashed by the bottle opener. Crisp, flowery greenery. A brisk and bright meadow scent. Untamed and undisciplined wild flowers amid long grass. The scent of what we know will be a fleeting, 330ml of Summer.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Red Rye IPA

I don't think I ever met a rye IPA that I didn't like. India Pale Ales made with rye grains come across to me as tough and competent, a beer that in human form would have worked for a few years at the ragged edge of civilisation, then returned to a sedate urban lifestyle but never did stop carrying that Bowie knife.

Red Rye IPA (from Twickenham Fine Ales, and my first taste of this brewery's produce) promises a wilderness roam with its simple and subdued forest and mountain label art. The initial scent does not disappoint; pine, peach and apricot are all present, hiking gear strapped to their bodies in preparation for arboreal adventure.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Sunny Dayz Golden Ale

British Springtime is an odd beast, especially here in the North East. A climate that was good enough this morning for your correspondent to safely operate a lawnmower soon turned to "jumper on inside the house" weather. When laying out plans for drinking and writing about the five new beers that make up Aldi's craft range I had pencilled Sunny Dayz, brewed by the seemingly-very-prolific-in-recent-months Hog's Back Brewery, as my post-gardenwork refresher.

As I throw treasured photographs and the deeds to the house into the fire in an attempt to survive the icy tendrils of a resurgent Winter I wish I'd saved last night's warming coffee porter for this chill-bound evening.

That may have been a slight exaggeration. But I am wearing a jumper indoors right now. I know I'll not feel the benefit later. Please forgive me.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Spill the Beans Coffee Porter

Last year the supermarket chain Lidl introduced an expanded range of beers. For weeks the promises had crackled  like lightning through the beerosphere; Lidl was going to shake things up. Lidl was going to upset the apple cart and kick ass, take names, bust chops and call cops.

After the words came the deeds, and the start was patchy and shaky. A few more real ales appeared on the shelves. Asahi made an appearance. Did Lidl always stock so many interchangeable Master Brewer's beers? 

Eventually, and happily, Lidl slipped into gear after a grinding start, and it would be a pretty snidey driving instructor to fail someone five seconds after turning the key in the ignition. Lidl's beer range got bigger, broader and better serviced. The creation of the Hatherwood Craft Beer Co. line of own brand craft beer (their words, not mine, simmer down in the back) saw some decent brews hit the Lidl shelves. Winter Warmer (brewed by Hog's Back Brewery) was a delicious, cakey seasonal brew. Green Gecko IPA, brewed by Marston's, is simply a good IPA. It's got admirable scores on Ratebeer and Untappd, but more importantly it tastes nice, smells good, and is cheap. 

Now it's Aldi's turn to roll out an own brand craft beer line, and it seems this has been done with little to no fanfare. Was this insecurity on Aldi's part? A secrecy ploy to confound and blindside Lidl? A third and even less believable reason? Aliens? 

Whatever, Aldi has released the "Great British Brewing Co." range, a gang of five beers, produced by Sadler's, Hog's Back, Brains Brewery, and Twickenham Fine Ales, and this intro has gone on long enough so here's Spill The Beans, a coffee porter from Brains.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Little Fluffy Clouds

Some beers brood. Some beers glower and smoulder, slowly sharpening their knives, polishing their teeth, staring back at the drinker a silent assurance that they won't go down without a fight. Others promise class, refinement, an experience of delectation, and others still threaten with exoticism and wild attacks on the taste sensors.

Fluffy Little Clouds, the joint work of Wylam Brewery and Mad Hatter Brewing Company, promises nothing but happiness. All is well, the label murmurs into our ear as we slip into a slumber. All is well, the pies are still flying and the clouds are completely rainless. All is well.

So disarmingly charming is the label artwork, evocative of a 1990s third-party Windows screen saver, that it knocked this reporter off balance momentarily, his guard of suspicion and at least attempted objectivity dangerously lowered. I struggled to replace my game face, and found a bottle opener in this hell zone of a kitchen.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

American India Pale Ale

Was Marks and Spencer really as tragic as I seem to remember? There was a time, I'm sure, when Marks and Spencer was daddish and button-down, a vendor of bad shirts and blue jeans, the one place in any given big-ish city where you were guaranteed to find a Panama hat if you needed one at short notice and had maybe 25 quid on you.

Maybe getting past the dreaded age of 30 makes one look at M&S with a little more relaxed detachment. Or maybe Marks and Sparks really was dull and uninspired back when your correspondent was younger, rounder, and wore band t-shirts far too much. Whatever the Cool Status of Marksies is (and I'm sure the boys in the lab are working hard to get a clear answer on this) it's undeniable that over the past couple of years their selection of own-brand beers has made waves and set high bars. And with that, it's time to open Arbor Ales' American India Pale Ale, one of the more recent additions to the M&S stable.

Tropical Bitch

I can't remember my first Flying Dog Brewery beer. I had been drinking with my beer writer colleague Chris Hall, and it was a brutal collision between the Newcastle and London desks of Rum and Reviews Magazine. Whether I had battered my head in with their Gonzo Imperial Porter, their Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, or some other wildly named and high abv party wrecker, is a question unanswerable. Lost in time.

The brewery recently turned 25, and the limited run Tropical Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, a tropical spin on Raging Bitch, is their Birthday Beer. Once again, it is time for your correspondent to venture into Bat Country, and add another Flying Dog head-punching beer to the tally.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Garlic Farm's Garlic Beer

In the past I have railed against bad and cheaply made beer with odd stuff put in it. I licked shots at a chili beer that I bought in B&M Bargains, and I absolutely lit up Dead Crow Bourbon Flavoured Beer. There were no survivors.

As I turn the dark bottle of the Isle of Wight-based Garlic Farm's Garlic Beer over in my hands, reading the label's promises of complexity and artisanal brewing, the invocation of the word "craft[ing]", the fact it lists the hops used (Goldings and First Gold, nerds) and the instruction for beer lovers to "rejoice" I really don't want to blast this beer. It looks like a product made with care by people who believed in it, not something barfed out by a careless beer-o-mat in The Land That Flavour Forgot.

Then again, garlic beer sounds like something a lifelong non-drinker would pitch in a panic when asked by a brewer to suggest a creative direction. 

Take it like it's medicine, O'Toole.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Antichrist Black IPA

This is how the world ends. The red eyes of a stone saviour's statue stare down at a city in chaos. Emergency sirens shriek through the hot Armageddon night. A New World Order ushers Earth into damnation.

The heretics from White House Farm have brought the apocalypse upon us.

With a label that promises the End Times,  Morpeth-based Anarchy Brew Co's Antichrist Black IPA sets a hard target for itself. A beer named after the end boss of Christianity needs to be a towering thing, a fork-tongued civilisation-ruiner of a beer.

It needs to be, and please prepare to groan at this one, devilishly good,

Jesus Christ I am so sorry.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Brown Bottle City: A Year In Newcastle's Pubs

It’s my 31st birthday. Newly single and drunkenly unchained. I crash into the city with a warband of friends that quickly dwindles to just myself and Pete (from the previous Head of Steam story), who will probably feature in a lot of these tales. 

We end up drinking in Sam Jack’s, a Newcastle binge emporium with a nominal Wild West theme. It has a mechanical bull and it’s really loud. The bar, not the bull. At one point in the night, my head smashed in with far too much beer, I leave Sam Jack’s and accidentally go into Sinners, the bar next door. From there I furiously text Pete to tell him to go home and that I was “on a missiom” (sic). 

I don’t hear back from him and end up talking to a group of girls on an away day from Durham. We talk a while, yelling and slurring and failing to get any real information across, until one of them pauses mid-conversation to open her handbag and loudly vomit into it. It is a primal technicolour scream, a roaring un-eat that drowns out the music, and this is my cue to leave, my brain drowning in neon-coloured vodka shots.

The next morning, upon review, I find the earnest “go home, it’s fine, I’m on a missiom” texts had been sent to the unmonitored inbox of my mobile phone provider.

It has now been two years since I drank there. There is no avoiding this place of vomit and miscommunication.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Diabolus Sour Imp

Durham Brewery’s beer labels have always had a churchy air about them. They look like the covers of treasured prayerbooks lovingly kept behind the thick glass of a high-security cathedral. The fine cursive lettering and reverent Cross of Saint Cuthbert promise class, serenity, elegance and tradition all waiting patiently to be released from their glass monastery.

While Durham Brewery isn’t a religious outfit like Europe’s great monastic brewing concerns the pious influence of the Land of the Prince Bishops has clearly fallen upon their branding. This makes it all the more apt that of late the brewery has shown a dark side, rolling out new takes on its Temptation Russian Stout called Hellfire and Diabolus, clanking off a dark Satanic bottling plant with labels bearing heavy Gothic lettering and illustrations worthy of a Mephedrone nightmare because, in the words of a great philosopher:

Without Evil there could be no Good, so it must be Good to be Evil sometimes
- Satan, "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (1999)